Stokes Bay




Fort Monckton

Fort Monckton was constructed in the 1780s on the site of a earlier fort known as ‘The Fort at Gilkicker’. This site was formerly occupied by the castle of Hasilworth (Hasleworth), which was dismantled  during the reign of Mary Tudor. 

Fort Monckton temporary fort 1779

The proposed fort at Gilkicker 1779


There had long been plans to defend the Western approaches to Portsmouth Harbour by constructing fortifications at Stokes Bay. In 1587 the threat from Spain caused the Earl of Sussex to ask for an earthwork to be built at Hasleworth Castle. This plan also proposed that the mouth of the River Alver, which entered the sea at Gilkicker Point, should be blocked with a sluice to allow the water in the river to be retained along the length of the creek running parallel with Stokes Bay. The cliff behind the creek was to be cut to make it unclimbable. This plan was not carried out.

The next proposals came from De Gomme in 1678, who wanted a two-storey guard house at Gilkicker. Then in 1700 Sir Martin Beckman proposed a gun platform at 'Stoaks Bay'. In 1707 yet another proposal, by Talbot Edwards, called for seven platforms or redoubts at Stokes Bay running westwards from Gilkicker, with a defensive work at Haslar.


Fort Monckton Archer's proposals for a fort at Gilkicker 1782

Archer's proposal for a fort at Gilkicker 1782


Despite all these schemes it was not until 1779 that the War of American Independence led to the construction of the first Fort at Gilkicker. Lt. General Sir Robert Monckton was the Governor of Portsmouth and he told his Commanding Engineer, Lt. Col. John Archer, to draw up plans for the defence of Stokes Bay. In 1779 Archer was ordered to throw up a work at Gilkicker Point. The Gilkicker Sea Mark was demolished to provide clear ground for the new fortification. This temporary fort consisted of a earth bank, six feet thick, supported by fascines (brushwood bundles used to strengthen trenches and ramparts). The soldiers manning this fort were quartered in tents, which blew away in 1780! The magazine of this fort was reported to have been so conspicuous from the sea, that it was used as a sea mark in place of the one that was demolished.


Archer constantly expressed his opinion that Gilkicker Point required a much more permanent means of defending Stokes Bay and the western approach to the Harbour entrance. Eventually, in July 1780, a plan by Archer was approved although there was much controversy surrounded its design and construction. By September 1780 the fort, now known as The Fort at Gilkicker, was under construction on an altered plan. In 1782, the Third Duke of Richmond was appointed as Master-General of the Ordnance. He held strong views on the construction of the fort at Gilkicker. He visited the site, disapproved of what was being constructed and submitted a new plan for a fort that was symmetrical with two seaward bastions. Archer criticised the plans and in April the construction on the Gosport side of the harbour became the responsibility of Lt. Col. Monckton. He reported unfavourably on Archer's work. Archer was removed from his command. By 1873 an engineer officer, James Glenie, was in charge of the work at Gilkicker. He was removed in 1784 and published an essay which attacked the Duke's plans. The fort at Gilkicker was practically completed during 1789-90, just prior to the French Revolutionary War of 1793. It was built mainly with civilian labour. Lt. General Monckton died in 1782 and his name was given to the new fort which then was referred to as Fort Monckton.


Plan of Fort Monckton with the first Auxiliary Battery at Gilkicker 1858
Plan of Fort Monckton 1858 with the first auxiliary battery at Gilkicker Point

Plan of Fort Monckton with the second Auxiliary Battery at Gilkicker (Fort Gilkicker) 1888

Fort Monckton with the second auxiliary battery at Gilkicker Point 1888.

The fort consisted of a bastioned trace with three bastions facing landward and two towards the sea. The curtain between the two sea bastions contained the barrack quarters with 22 gun casemates on the lower floor. This sea front is faced with Purbeck stone presenting an impressive sight from the sea. The sea bastions have a parapet pierced with embrasures for guns. Each bastion can be enfiladed from the other. Behind each bastion, stretching across the dry ditch which surrounds the landward bastions and curtains, is a two storey caponier built of brick. Each has an arrow head shaped end and is low lying so as to be safe from direct fire. On the outer edge of the ditch is a covered way with ten traverses and a firing step for protection. In front of each of the land curtains is a salient with a V shaped ravelin, higher than the covered way, acting as advanced firing positions. A large main magazine stood in a central position behind the centre bastion. The road to the fort passes through an advanced redoubt (or redan) which protects the chicane that then leads on over the bridge spanning the ditch and through the entrance tunnel in the north curtain wall. Beyond the dry ditch the fort has an outer protection consisting of a wide water filled moat on the western side, with a narrower ditch on the northern side passing between the outer entrance redoubt and the inner bastions and curtain wall. This water feature was originally the natural lake formed at the mouth of the river Alver with a direct connection to the sea. When constructed in 1860 the Stokes Bay Moat flowed into this 'Lake' at Gilkicker and exited via a sluice in the southern end, to the sea. Parts of this lake were filled in the 1970s, including one section which now bisects it with a causeway for golfers at the point where the Stokes Bay moat originally entered. The ditch to the north was completely filled.

When the 1860 commission reported to Parliament Fort Monckton was considered to be well out of date. It was given a minor defensive role in the great scheme for Portsmouth Harbour.


In 1872 it was proposed to update the armament by retaining some of the smooth bore guns but adding 5 x 7-inch R.M.L.s and 6 x 64pr R.M.L.s. By 1886 Fort Monckton was armed with 11 x 8-inch S.B. 5 x 7-inch R.B.L. and 6 x 64pr R.M.L. guns. It was then proposed to add two 64pr R.M.L. guns to each of Bastions no. 1, 2 and 5. In 1890 most the 64prs on no. 1 and 2 bastions were substituted with machine guns on parapet mountings.

Fort Monckton: Fleet review 1856: Illustrated London News 1856 Fort Monckton: Fleet review 1856: Illustrated London News 1858
Monckton 1856 Monckton 1858


The fort often served as a viewing platform for Fleet Reviews such as the ones recorded in the Illustrated London News of 1856 and 1858, which showed spectators lined along the shore in front of Fort Monckton.


In 1875-76 experiments were conducted at Stokes Bay with Wilde's Electric Light. The electric light was placed on the parapet of the salient of the south-west bastion of Fort Monckton. The electric apparatus and ten horsepower apparatus were placed in the interior of the bastion eight-six feet from the light. The light was thirty feet above sea level. Further experiments were carried out at Fort Monckton in July 1875 with lime light and signalling lamps for visual signalling. Various forms of voltaic batteries were also tested during this year. Stokes bay was used to test apparatus for the production of electric light, including the Gramme machine and Siemens machine, to determine which gave the best light.



In 1876 experiments with submarine mines were carried out at Stokes Bay. Fort Monckton served as an ideal viewing platform.


In 1878 the Royal Engineers moved into Fort Monckton to use it as a barracks whilst they trained in the use of submarine mines, and later searchlights. In the 1880s the armament of the fort was revised and it mounted mainly obsolete smooth bore guns.

2 x 7-inch RBL

2 x 8-inch S.B.

9 x 32pr

2 x 24pr

6 x 18pr

2 x 12pr


Fort Monckton : Experimental demonstration of torpedo warfare at Portsmouth: Illustrated London News 1879



In 1879 the torpedo experiments at Stokes Bay also consisted of an attack on Fort Monckton. The objective of the attacking party was to land troops although some reporters decided that the sole purpose of the attack was to bombard Fort Monckton. The sham fight was recorded in the London Illustrated news of October 25 1879. During this sham attack the importance of the use of electric lights in the defense of forts, minefields and harbours was proved. Full story from the Illustrated London News here October 17 1879

and Here October 25th 1879



Fort Monckton : Torpedo warfare demonstration at Portsmouth: Night attack on boom and submarine mines by Naval Torpedo boats. Illustrated London News 1879



"The idea is that Fort Monckton is strongly fortified and protected by means of the sunken mines placed at frequent intervals in the sea in the vicinity of the Fort, the whole being governed by the Royal Engineer Torpedo Company. In order to render the position all the more impregnable large booms are to be placed in every direction. The attacking forces consist of a party from The Vernon torpedo ship school, under the command of Captain William E. Gordon and this party with their boats fully armed will endeavour to approach and render the sunken mines inoperative by exploding them by means of countermines.


Early view of Fort Monckton: The barrack block casemates An early view of Fort Monckton: The octagonal building is the cookhouse, on the left  is the guard House/Gate House
Early views of Fort Monckton: casemates Guard Room/Gate House and Cookhhouse



In 1880 Fort Monckton was the headquarters of the 4th (Submarine Mining) Company Royal Engineers.

The Portsmouth Division Submarine Miners (Militia) Royal Engineers were trained at Monckton for two months each year in May and June. In 1893 the Royal Marine Artillery also had a detachment of submarine miners at Fort Monckton.


4th Company Royal Engineers at Gosport in 1909

4th Royal Engineer Company at Gosport posing in front of a row of pontoon boats in 1909.


4th Royal Engineers at Monckton 4th Royal Engineers Haslar 1911 4th Royal Engineers Haslar (Some of the Boys)
4th Royal Engineers at Monckton 4th Royal Engineers Haslar 1911 4th Royal Engineers Haslar 1911



During World War One Fort Monckton was used to mount Anti-Aircraft searchlights and in World War Two it held an Anti-Aircraft artillery unit.


In 1924 the Royal Engineer occupying unit at Fort Monckton was the 22nd Fortress Company whilst the 4th Fortress Company Royal Engineers occupied Haslar Barracks. Men were often recruited directly after leaving school at the age of 14. They were taught a trade such as electrician, engine and bench fitting, carpentry, bricklaying, overhead line construction, pole erecting and cable jointing. Engine rooms for training purposes with Hornsby-Ackroyd and Tangye engines for supplying electricity to searchlights were sited on the ground floor of the main barrack block. Most of the training on searchlights took place at the nearby School of Electric lighting (Searchlights) at Stokes Bay.



A Royal Engineer section at Gosport (possibly Monckton or the Stokes Bay School of Electric lighting) posing with a searchlight.

A Royal Engineer section at Gosport (possibly Monckton or the Stokes Bay School of Electric lighting) posing with a searchlight.

(I am grateful to members of the Great War Forum for confirming that the photgraphs was probably taken around 1938-1940 due to the field service caps being worn along with the peaked caps and service dress)

A Royal Engineer section at Gosport (possibly Monckton) posing with a gas oil engine of the type used to power searchlights.

A Royal Engineer section at Gosport (possibly Monckton) posing with a gas oil engine of the type used to power searchlights.

(I am grateful to members of the Great War Forum for confirming the uniform as being of the R.E. post WWI and for identifying the apparatus.)

Almost the whole of the original fort still exists but it is a present occupied by the Military as the Army's No.1 Training Establishment and no access to it is possible. It can be viewed from a distance across the golf course at Gilkicker but any closer viewing is not recommended. It has the honour of being the only fort of the Portsmouth defences still in Military (as opposed to Naval) hands.

Plan of Fort Monckton in 1890

Fort Monckton in 1890

Plan of Fort Monckton and Fort Gilkicker in 1892 (Taken from Solent Papers No.13 Fort Blockhouse and Fort Monckton)

Plan of Fort Monckton and Fort Gilkicker in 1892 (Taken from Solent Papers No.13 Fort Blockhouse and Fort Monckton)



Views of Fort Monckton

Entrance and Gatehouse. 1920s. Photo given by Mr. E. Plowman. Internal view across the parade towards the sea facing casemates. 1920s. Photo given by Mr. E. Plowman.
Entrance and Gatehouse. 1920s. Photo given by Mr. E. Plowman. Internal view across the parade towards the sea facing casemates. 1920s. Photo given by Mr. E. Plowman.
Fort Monckton 1960s Fort Monckton 1960s
Fort Monckton North Bastion and curtain 1960s Fort Monckton Entrance and gatehouse 1960s






Fort Monckton aerial view in 1980 Fort Monckton aerial view with Fort Gilkicker beyond. Frot Gilkicker with Fort Monckton aerial view in 2008 (Photo James Pierce)



An aerial view of Fort Monckton on FlashEarth can be seen here:

Fort Monckton


A map of the Portsmouth Defences can be seen here:

Windows Live: Portsmouth Fortifications





Creative Commons License
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence